I went to Greyhawk Ruins and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt!

I’m just riding on Grognerdia’s coat-tails here, but I’ve always liked “Greyhawk Ruins” even though the Greyhawkites probably mostly hate it… and the fact that I like it is probably an indictment of my low standards and questionable taste. I don’t really want an ‘official’ Castle Greyhawk but understand that many do. ‘Greyhawk Ruins’ probably disappoints the serious Gygax fan, but, since I don’t have a horse in that particular race, this represents no skin off of my nose. In my own case, if I were to use it (unlikely), I wouldn’t insist that players accept it as “the real deal.” Then again, I don’t want anything ‘canon’ or official anyway. I’d probably rename it something silly and derivative like ‘Blackhawk Castle’ or ‘Greymoor Castle’ and plop it right between ‘Verbosh’ and ‘Valley of the Umpa-Lumpas’ on my map.


Likes for me include that it is pretty damn big and probably qualifies as a ‘megadungeon’ with factions and little stories going on, NPCs for the players to interact with and some interesting challenges that include lots of traps, rooms where players may have to fight their way across boiling tar pits, volcanoes, flooded areas, etc. Dislikes include that some of it (well, quite a bit of it) seems more than a little monotonous (room after room filled with 10 ogres, 20 troglodytes, etc., just sitting around waiting for adventurers to show up).

The maps are pretty weird (no grid and a color coding system that is never really adequately explained — my assumption is that the different colors are in the order of the spectrum (Roy G. Biv) with ‘red’ areas above orange, orange above yellow, yellow above green, etc.)… but, for me, the shitty maps are not a deal breaker and I can live with them. The maps are also all rendered without a scale and at an angle so the top of the page is ‘northeast’ rather than dead north, as in most other TSR D&D dungeon maps. I cropped a random section of one of the maps at right to show you what I mean.

Information is some parts is a little sketchy, but I actually prefer too little info rather than too much simply because I don’t want to read long winded essays on the history of every stick of furniture nor do I need exact counts of how many dirty socks are in the footlocker of the bedroom of the bugbear chief on the 3rd level. Just give me the bare bones and I can flesh out the details if need be. If I were ever to use this thing at the table, I would like the shorter entries since I can scan them right there at the table and, in a moment, know what the players are up against without having to stop the game so I can review several paragraphs of dense text.

It was written for D&D 2nd edition. This makes some people unhappy but I don’t see that there is much about it that I couldn’t convert to another pre-3e form of D&D or other retroclone on the fly.

Interior art is from Thomas Baxa, Mark Nelson and Dave Simons; three artists I don’t know much about other than that they did a bit of work for TSR back in the 2e days. Most of the art looks like the art from the comic books I remember seeing as a kid from the late 1970s — sort of generic and wholesome-looking, which is a plus for me. The style of art makes me think that having Batman or Wonderwoman appear in the picture would not seem too out of place.

There is no ‘overriding’ story to the dungeon other than this: Long ago, Zagig the Wizard built a castle made of three towers where he collected his trophies, housed his guards and performed his experiments. Then he vanished and the castle began to fall apart. The dungeons beneath it are intact, however, and lots of adventurers go there. Some return with treasure; some never return at all. Of the castles/towers, little remains other than the ground floors.

The castle itself consists of three towers on mesa-like formations connected by bridges. Each ruined tower has it’s own basement, so technically I guess there are three ‘dungeons’ but they have a few inter-connections between them. The main tower is ‘Tower Zagig’ which is supposed to be the most dangerous. The left tower is ‘The Power Tower’ in which Zagig performed his many experiments. It’s front door is guarded by a group of elves. The right tower is ‘The Tower of War’ which is guarded by dwarves. If I remember correctly, the dwarves and elves demand visitors pay them a tribute for the privilege of using the doors to their respective towers.

Potentially, players can just go to the Ruins to bag XP and gold. There are also several factions (groups competing to control the dungeons, escaped slaves, a cabal of magic users who use a section of the dungeons for their experiments) that could be interacted with and the imaginative DM could figure out other quests and conflicts.

Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to use ‘Ruins of Greyhawk.’ My days of running players through dungeoncrawls are probably long behind me; I don’t like playing online and players in my area seem to prefer a different style of game. Lack of interest from the local pool of players is probably also keeping my own Megadungeon, Mines of Khunmar, as something I will get to finishing “someday.”* And, really, who cares? What is in ‘Mines of Khunmar’ that is any better than anything else a halfway creative person with a lot of time of their hands can make?

* “someday,” with each passing real day, becomes more and more like “never.”


8 Comments on “I went to Greyhawk Ruins and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt!”

  1. Ragnardbard says:

    Answering your latter question, some of us love what you do and your Khunmar dungeon. Its fine not to finish it too, but I for one see what you have offered our hobby already as something special, even if you never touch it again. So there.

    And yep. 'Ruins of Greyhawk' has its virtues too. We can all just be too bloody critical sometimes…

    • Stephen D. Patterson says:

      2012 was over 10 years ago. Not sure if Ragnarbard is still alive? So, like my own AD&D experience, the quality of players hasn’t improved, imo. Most havn’t moved beyond the “christmas tree” stage, without true story and team orientation.

  2. Mike Monaco says:

    Aw shucks, I was hoping to see your dungeon some day. Really.

    I have found that it is really not too hard to recruit new players. A lot of college age people appear to be interested in D&D but put off by the complexity of 3rd & 4th ed. It is totally worth trying to find some newbies to play with. Bring along a few old school grognards if you know any too, and megadungeon away! The players I've had in the last couple of years have been 50/50 old dudes like me in their 30s/40s+ and younger guys in their 20s. The age difference has not mattered a bit. YMMV, but it's worth trying, really. Run Khunmar and you'll have to finish it!

  3. Brendan says:

    I think this is from some 3E iteration of Castle Greyhawk, but it's still pretty cool:


  4. Telecanter says:

    I'm with Mr. Monaco, been surprised at how easy it's been to find nice, funny newb players. Play them through it and just enjoy the process of making new parts of the mines. peace.

  5. jasons says:

    “What is in 'Mines of Khunmar' that is any better than anything else a halfway creative person with a lot of time of their hands can make?”

    Why, it'd be chock full of Stephan Poag, something only one halfway creative guy (currently known to science) can provide.

    But I certainly understand abandoning frustrating projects. Keep rocking regardless.

  6. ClawCarver says:

    I really hope you do publish the Mines of Khunmar some day (if only because I want to enjoy the artwork) but the “bare bones” version is already astounding. As you point out yourself, too little info is generally better than too much.

  7. velaran says:

    I quite enjoyed Greyhawk Ruins myself.(I also loved the other much maligned Greyhawk product of the time: The City of Greyhawk, which rocks, imo.) It's *huge*; at ~1000 rooms, it's the biggest single dungeon ever published by TSR! From a canon standpoint, it's a little iffy, but it's still has a lot of fun stuff like interlevel warfare, deities behaving badly, crazy monsters, esoteric magic items, ways to travel other campaign settings, and Zagyg's War Wagon!

    The scale is printed on each map: 1″ = 30 feet. The Acaeum points out that the color key was left out of the first printing. Each color demarcated an elevation of 5 feet from lightest to darkest(light purple to red.)

    I just came across 'Mines', and I immediately was intrigued: you don't see many dungeons(or campaigns, really) still in development since ~1980. If you decide to publish, I'd certainly be interested in buying, as I'm a *huge* fan of personally crafted RPG materials. Not to mention, I'm a firm believer in backing small business endeavors! DIY > Corporate all damn day, ime.

    Man, 1980… And here I thought *I* had accomplished a feat of hellhole longevity: I started building mine in '87 with a homebrew rules set, and kept adding on until… Actually, I never stopped! The Caves of Caelbaras are still around in some form or another, and it's still fun to play in for the local groups. No-one seems to want to have more than one TPK in there a year, though… Such is life, I guess. šŸ™‚

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